State Sen. Mona Das, D-Kent, speaks at a Kent Chamber of Commerce luncheon June 20 about racism and sexism among legislators. STEVE HUNTER, KENT REPORTER

State Sen. Mona Das, D-Kent, speaks at a Kent Chamber of Commerce luncheon June 20 about racism and sexism among legislators. STEVE HUNTER, KENT REPORTER

Das claims racism, sexism during closed-door legislative meetings in Olympia

First-year senator speaks her mind at Kent Chamber of Commerce gathering

Mona Das told a Kent Chamber of Commerce audience that her first year in the state Senate in Olympia included closed-door meetings that were full of “racism, sexism and misogyny.”

The Kent Democrat told the business luncheon group – during a legislative wrap-up forum on June 20 at the Center Point Conference Center – that she wanted to get real with it about working as a woman of color in the Legislature.

“It was hard to go to work everyday,” said Das, who was born in India and immigrated to the United States with her family at just 8 months old. “The racism, and the sexism and the misogyny that we experienced is real. And it’s not OK anymore. And when you elect people of color at the table, don’t tell us to be quiet. It’s not OK.”

Das, who defeated two-term state Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn, in November for the 47th Legislative District seat that represents parts of Kent, Auburn, Covington and Renton, said things really change in Olympia when the 28-member Democratic caucus met behind closed doors to discuss bills.

“After they close that door, that’s when it gets real,” Das said. “That’s when my 28 colleagues got real. And that’s when I heard hate, misogyny and racism and sexism from people you would not expect. That’s the type of light I want to shine. Now, when there are eight people of color in the Senate Democratic caucus, it was coded language – ‘those people.’ They would say things that were coded.”

Das is vice chair of the Senate Housing Affordability & Stability Committee, and a member of the Senate Transportation Committee; the Senate Financial Institutions, Economic Development & Trade Committee; and the Senate Environment, Energy & Technology Committee.

Das, who has three years remaining on her four-year term, told the crowd she wanted to share what goes on in the marble halls of Olympia because it matters who gets elected to office.

“My life, his life, and all these lives are in danger everyday when your elected officials don’t actually represent everybody,” she said while pointing out people of color in the audience.

Senate Democrats issued a press release in November that the Senate would be led in 2019 by the most diverse leadership team in the history of the Legislature that included two deputy leaders who are women of color – Seattle Sen. Rebecca Saldaña, the only Latina in the chamber; and Redmond Sen. Manka Dhingra, the first Sikh woman ever elected to a state legislature.

But even that leadership wasn’t enough to change the ways of some senators in the Capitol.

“I am going to say it again,” Das said. “The hate, sexism, racism and misogyny I experienced when that caucus room door closed would shock only the white folks in the room because the brown folks know it’s there.”

Das said she was proud of legislation adopted that will help people of color, women, poor people and business people.

“I am going to tell you how hard it was to pass some of this legislation,” she said. “The only reason it passed is because we had six new senators. Of the six of us, three of us are people of color, two are lesbians and one is Jewish. And we were all much younger than our colleagues, and that is what changed the Legislature this year.”

The first-year senator plans to play a large role in changing the ways of the Legislature. Das, who has run a small mortgage business for 14 years, announced she had started up a new business as a consultant to people of color running for office. Her first two clients are Kent City Council candidate Awale Farah and Burien City Council candidate Sofia Aragon.

Farah is running against Barry Fudenski, Ron Johnson and Zandria Michaud on the Aug. 6 primary ballot. Aragon’s opponents are Robert L. Richmond, III and Debi Wagner.

“My new business is to promote people like me,” Das said. “I want to take away the secret message of what it’s like to run for office and shine the light to help folks like Awale win. Awale is my first client. I am going to help him fundraise. I am going to help candidates that look like me get there. We need more people at the table.”

Das said she decided to run for office to get more people of color in leadership positions.

“The reason I ran is if you are not at the table, you are on the menu,” she said. “And for women and people of color we have been on the menu for thousands of years.”

Das wrapped up her talk with one more message.

“I am absolutely grateful and honored to represent our community as a business owner, as a business woman, as an environmentalist, as a tree-hugging hippie, as a Indian and as a woman who came here with her family with six dollars from India – I am fighting for all of you every day,” she said.

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